Wednesday, 15th April, 2020

[Day 30]

It seems incredible to me that we are mid-way through April already – the months go faster and faster. Today, I met an acquaintance in the park who knew two of my sets of acquaintances but who I didn’t know knew each other. This got me thinking a bit about how networks of social relationships develop. I am going to be a little more theoretical but bear with me and you will see where I am going. When I was at university in the mid-1960s, one of our tutors was Professor Ronald Frankenberg who compiled a book called ‘Communities in Britain‘. Sociologists and social anthropologists had written a series of studies starting with simple fishing, mining and agricultural communities and progressing through larger and more complex communities including small market towns. The idea was to build a type of continuum of the way that communities had developed through time from simple to more complex. In a theoretical chapter at the end, Frankenberg attempts to arrive at a theoretical and mathematical understanding of the way in which we can describe communities using social network and communication theory. He borrowed from a 1949 work ‘On Human Communication‘ to show how messages arrive from A to B. Put simply, if A is connected to B and the link is broken, then communication cannot occur. If however, there are some other points in the system (let us call then C and D) then if the link between A and B is broken, it is still possible to get a message through the system by going through C or D. This is technically called redundancy by telecommunication engineers – put really simply, the more extra nodes there are in the system (i.e. the more redundancy) the greater a chance that a message will be delivered. If we take an example from the last war – if the British had bombed a railway line between two German cities and they were only connected by one direct line, then the effect would be no trains!. But now imagine the Germans attempting to bomb a railway line shall we say between Birmingham and Manchester. The railway chiefs could always route a train through ‘Didley Squat junction‘ and the train would get through eventually, albeit with a little delay. This must actually be happening all the time on the World Wide Web – if one link is down then a router will despatch messages in different directions to ensure that the email gets delivered. Frankenberg’s great insight was, I believe, that we can define a ‘community-ness’ by the amount of redundancy as well as by the connectedness of the system. Can you see where I started off and where I am going from with this idea?

In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed some of our closest friends who described to us how they ought to have been in receipt of the government letter, sent to all people with complex medical needs (which the husband of our friends certainly has) Put briefly, life had been very stressful trying to get supermarket slots. medication and the like. However, through some kind of systems failure, the letter had failed to be sent or to arrive – but when part of the medical networks caring for our friend realised this they got the wheels in motion and suddenly everything changed dramatically and life got a lot easier as they could now get the priority access through supermarket queues to which they are thoroughly entitled (but which hitherto had failed to materialise) So gradually things are starting to get better.

Some sad COVID-19 related news for us today. One of my daughter-in-law’s relatives had died of the virus (although he was of an advanced age and suffering from dementia) We were also saddened to hear that one of our closest friends in Leicestershire had also suffered a bereavement – first the mother died last autumn and then one of her own sons died of oesophageal cancer in the last day or, with very few family members or friends being allowed to attend the funeral. This must be happening to families up and down the country…